When Jesus taught, He wasn't passing on abstract concepts and information. He wanted to change the way we understood God, ourselves, and the world. And He wanted this understanding to impact the way we lived. At its core, this is the thrust of the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders.
Acting on what you know
Throughout the New Testament, we're encouraged to put into practice what we’ve learned. The rich man comes to this startling realization in Jesus' parable about Lazarus and the Rich Man. When he dies and ends up suffering for ignoring the needs of a beggar named Lazarus, the rich man begs that Lazarus be sent back to warn his brothers, so they don't suffer the same fate. But he's told that if they're not willing to do what the Law teaches them, they're not going to change just because someone comes back from the dead.
It's a tough lesson, but we're responsible for practicing what we know. James says it this way:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do (James 1:22–25).
He's telling us that it's easy to see ourselves as devout because we understand what we’ve heard, but our faithfulness requires that we practice what we’ve learned. Our dedication is shown in our willingness to walk in the light that we’ve received.
The wise and foolish builders
This is the point Jesus hammers home. He begins by offering a warning about the nature of the kingdom of God:
Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?" Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" (Matthew 7:21–23)
This must have been a challenging thing for Jesus' listeners to hear. Jesus is talking about people doing amazing things in His name, but still missing the mark. This must have made those listening to Jesus' words feel hopeless. If people casting out demons and performing miracles in Jesus' name can’t get into the kingdom, who can?
Jesus elaborates in this short parable:
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash (Matthew 7:24–27).
It's easy to make the mistake that doing a bunch of busy work for Christ's sake (even dramatic and miraculous busy work) is a sign that we belong to Jesus. The sad truth is that even our ministries can be tools we use to puff us up and make us prominent. If we’re not careful, they can be more about us than Him.
Jesus wanted His listeners to understand the principle that His true followers will be the ones living lives of simple obedience. They don't just listen to Jesus’ words; they put them into practice—maybe not perfectly, but consistently.
Jesus communicates this more concisely in John's Gospel when he says, "If you love me, keep my commands" (John 14:15). After all, that's what He means when He invites us to follow Him.
Following Jesus can be difficult, He knows this. That's why He lived as our ultimate example. Check out the scene from the "JESUS" film, "Jesus Taught the Ways of God," to hear how Jesus wants us to live.
All Scripture references quote the New International Version unless otherwise noted.